Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

Bad Side of Spring Thaw

June 5, 2013


Poor polar bears have fewer places farther in between as arctic ice floes melt.

I am posting this drawing, which you will notice has no elephants, from iPhone. If there are not TWO polar bears in it, you may need to click on the drawing. Thanks.

Shades of Grass

May 26, 2013


Pearl Mounts Ice Floe To Raise Awareness For Its Melt

January 28, 2011

Pearl (Sans Elephant) Gets On The Floe

“Pearl!” I called down to the Hudson.   “I know you feel a special sympathy for polar bears–” (I think it’s the white fur/ black nose thing)–”but, seriously, this is going too far.”

“Errruuurrrmmmmmm,” Pearl replied.

Setting Pearl aside for a minute (while she’s still within range), it’s hard for us in the frigid Eastern U.S. to focus on the fact that this has been the second of two freakishly warm winters in the Arctic.   Scientists postulate that this is part of the reason for all the “excess” cold both here and in Europe–the circulation of various Polar jet streams has broken from usual vortexes, allowing arctic air to swoop down in exchange for warmer air swooping up.  Some scientists are concerned that this two-year change may signal long-term damage to a so-called arctic “fence” –see an article about it here.

In the meantime—”Pearrrrrrllll!”

Redwing Blackbird Mystery

January 3, 2011

What's happened to them?

Lord Help Us! The Tea Party and Climate Change

October 22, 2010

According to a recent New York Times article, Tea Partiers tend not to believe in climate change, or, if they do at least accept statistics of changing temperatures, they do not believe that the causes have anything to do with man.  One big rationale for this doubt is apparently religious faith.  The classic Tea Party reading of the Bible seems to be that since the Earth (and all of creation) is made to be used, or as some say, “utilized,” by man (read Americans), he/we can’t really wreck it.

“They’re trying to use global warming against the people,” Lisa Deaton, founder of We The People Indiana, said. “It takes away our liberty.”

“Being a strong Christian,” she added, “I cannot help but believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country and it’s not there to destroy us.”

Some variations on this thought.

I cannot help but believe:

  1. That the Lord placed a lot of sea turtles on our coasts, and that we are here to destroy them.
  2. That the Lord placed a ton of ice in our polar caps so that there’d be plenty for us to destroy.
  3. That the Lord placed a lot of bacteria in our world, some of which, without the aid of modern antibiotics, would destroy us.
  4. That the Lord put some deserts in our country and that with the help of massive water re-routing we can make a whole bunch more.
  5. That the Lord not only put all these minerals in our country but also gave us the ability to strip mine and hydrofrack the hell out of it.

Oh, great.

Surface Soot in Kashmir – “Glacial” Doesn’t Mean Slow When It Comes To Warming

July 18, 2010
Kashmir (Sooty Glacier With Goat)

Kashmir - Sooty Glacier (With Goat)

Nicholas Kristoff writes in today’s New York Times about the decline of glaciers in the Himalayas, and the resulting damage to agriculture and waterways on the Indian plains.  One factor in the deterioration (aside from a general rise in temperatures) is apparently the soot on the surface of the glaciers, caused by the exhaust systems of trucks and buses traveling the roadways there.   Because the soot reduces the reflective quality of the snow and ice, it causes them to absorb more heat and melt more quickly.

Archival and new photographs illustrating Himalayan deterioration are currently on display at the Asia Society in New York, but I couldn’t resist adding my own photographic evidence.  The photo above (taken June 2009) shows a slice of soot-covered Himalayan glacier; a goat travels on top of the blackened-ice, whitish buses haunt the background.

The roads–the road in that area, which travels from Srinagar, through Kargil, to Ladakh, is only open from mid-May to October.  In these months, it is extremely crowded with both commercial (beautifully decorated) trucks transporting the year’s worth of supplies, and extensive army convoys.  (They move about the thousands of soldiers stationed in Kashmir.)

Drass, Kashmir, India

The glaciers are beautiful, but sadly grey.  As we began ascending the mountains (by car – no crampons), I thought the grey was a sign of the age of the ice (as in humans!) but closer viewing showed it to be the coating of ash and soot that Kristoff writes of.   (It actually reminded me of snow in New York City — say, near the Holland Tunnel.)

You don’t need to do extensive “backwater” explorations to see an effect on lowland rivers – below is a picture taken in India’s primary tourist city, Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, showing the riverbed of the Yamuna (part of Indus river system fed by Himalayas.)    It’s my understanding that the “islands” used to be submerged.

Yamuna River, Agra

So many people rely on these waterways.  This is not just a problem of dry pipes or reduced pressure – people (often children or women) actively take livestock, laundry, and their individual selves to the riverbanks.

The reduced flow seems not only to mean lesser water but, increased muck – less dilution of the zillion and one pollutants that burden these poor waterways.

Where else can the people go?  They walk out further onto the caked silt of the old riverbed to get to the mirk of water that’s still there.

Kristoff hopes in the article that the BP spill will make Americans, and others, aware of the increasing degradation of the environment worldwide.   I, for one, think it’s doubtful, since Americans have difficulty recognizing the degradation of their home environment.   But many poorer countries – certainly not just India – which have hopped onto  a developmental train of manufacturing and consumption, have no environmental safeguards, enforcement, or even disposal systems, and  tragedy looms.  As nature is reduced, as true rivers and glaciers “melt down”,  mountains of undisintegrated plastic and pools of shinily suspicious liquids move in to fill (or deepen) the void.  (I couldn’t quite make myself take pictures of those.)

Yamuna River, Agra, India

Quatorze Juillet – French Burnt Peanuts, Fraternite, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles

July 14, 2010

Oh brother how are thou?

A lot of disparate elements to pull together on today, July 14th, Bastille Day, the French national day.

My only Bastille Day actually spent in France was in Nice at age 8.  Its most memorable element was not the fireworks over the Mediterranean (although I can still picture one beautiful arc of flash) but the French burnt peanuts bought from a street vendor on the nighttime beach.  It was the first time I’d ever tasted French burnt peanuts and they were like fireworks in my mouth–hot, sweet, crinkly, crunchy, touched so delicately with salt that it might have just been the taste of the sea air on my tongue.   The nuts were, despite several prior days in France, my first real evidence of the deliciousness of French food–my parents, traveling on a strict budget, made us eat a lot of ham sandwiches put together by my mother in the car.

My next most important memory of Bastille Day is not actually my personal memory, but one recounted to me by members of my husband’s family—a patriotic group who’d lived through and/or fought in World War II, serving with the U.S. forces.  On one July 14th, during the height of DeGaulle’s France First approach (and U.S. furor at his perceived ingratitude), my in-laws and some friends celebrated  by lying down on the floor to sing the Marseillaise.  This (the floor part) was deemed to show the highest disrespect, although, for my part, I was always impressed that they cared enough about France to actually know all the words.  (Also reflecting a longstanding U.S. love-hate relationship with the French, a/k/a Freedom Fries!)

I personally never learned the full Marseillaise, but was taught the slogan words of the French Revolution – Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité.   Liberté and egalité were expected (except for the “g”) but “fraternité”  – brotherhood  – always took me aback (and not only because I was a girl.)   The American Revolution talked of freedom and justice for all (except for slaves), but did not (at least in my limited understanding) give the same emphasis to this kind of connection among people.  (My off-the-cuff, uninformed, explanation is that the American colonies were already already somewhat united against a common “foreign” enemy, while the French Revolution, more akin to a civil war, needed to emphasize alliance.)

But I don’t want to write today about the French Revolution; what I want to write about are sea turtles.  There is a very sad, if interesting, video piece in the New York Times today about forensic efforts to uncover the exact cause of the huge rise in turtle deaths in the Gulf since the BP oil spill.   (Brent McDonald, Kassie Bracken, and Shaila Diwan.) The oil is an obvious culprit, but deaths also seem to result from sea turtles drowning in shrimping nets, particularly in Louisiana which apparently does not enforce Federal law regarding escape hatches in the nets for turtles.   One thought is that, in addition to poisoning the turtles, the oil may drive them into areas that are inhospitable and unfamiliar;  the spill may have also changed the conduct of fishermen.

Many of the turtles dying are the endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtles; their life span would otherwise go into the decades.   They are beautiful, their faces seemingly embued with a thoughtful intelligence.

Which brings me back to Bastille Day—not because of Louisiana’s French roots – but because of the French Revolutionary tenet of fraternity.  It seems to me increasingly unlikely that much will be done to save turtles or any non-human species, the environment, or even the planet itself, unless and until people feel a meaningful connection with creatures other than themselves.  I don’t mean simply the sentimental connection of how endearing the creatures are (although that’s a start).  I mean a connection that be real enough to inspire actual care and sacrifice.

I don’t mean to diminish people’s concerns about their jobs, what they eat and the temperature at which they keep their dwellings.   But at the moment, there is another kind of love/hate relationship going on here (more serious than the one with the French.)  We love the idea of saving wildlife, the environment;  we hate to actually do anything about it, to change our lives.  Some kind of better balance needs to be reached between short-term, individual concerns, and longer-term, world-wide needs, an understanding that humans may not do very well in a world in which sea turtles are dying in droves, that these creatures deserve lives free from molestation and torture, that the death of a sea turtle is a death in the family.